How do we intend to keep our ‘tryst with destiny’?

No one could have put it better. It required the inimitable Jawaharlal Nehru to fire the first salvo of a free India and claim her rightful place in the comity of nations.

It’s time for another Independence Day and some symbolic gaiety …the tricolor pinned on our shirts, the flags hoisted and speeches at several places across the country and abroad. However, it is also time to ponder over the events of the past, the experience of the present and the nation as we anticipate it in the future.

This post does not seek to serve as a chronicle of historical events but more as a comment on the ‘times’ that revolve around independence as we understand it.  For historians of modern India the conventional notion is that the freedom movement began with the Sepoy Mutiny or the battle of Independence in 1857. From there on until 1947, I shall categorize the interregnum as the period of sacrifice. The subsequent era between 1947 and 2008, I shall call the period of churning. And the period from 2009, I shall term the period of anticipation. This periodization is not mutually exclusive but just as a way of understanding what we value in each era.

It was a 90 year old march that ultimately culminated in Indian independence. In between there were numerous proclamations, acts, missions, movements, hartals and dharnas. Until about the end of the 19th century, there were small associations of Indians challenging the British and seeking freedom. There was a slow attempt by the British to enfranchise the Indians, giving them legislative power and greater role in education and bureaucracy. All this lasted well into the First World War when Mahatma Gandhi arrived on the scene and launched his famous Non-co-operation movement (1919-22), aligning it with the struggle for the Caliphate, making it a complete mass movement.

In this march towards independence, numerous freedom fighters languished in prison just because they had accepted the call to join the freedom movement. Gandhi had given the call for satyagraha (non-violent resistance). Even the top leadership was not spared including Gandhi , Nehru, Rajaji, Moulana Azad, Sardar Patel and several others. This period I term the period of sacrifice because of the enormous suffering that the preceding generations or the founding fathers underwent so that those who come after them may breathe in a free nation. Chief among the constitutional documents in the run-up to 1947, was the Government of India Act of 1935 that formed much of the basis of our later Constitution.

Independence from the British Raj came with its own set of challenges. The biggest crisis was on the economic front. Besides the concept of five- year plans, the idea of Green Revolution was developed to achieve self-sufficiency in food grains. There were of course other challenges such as the linguistic reorganization of states, couple of wars with our neighbors and very importantly the demise of Nehru and in a few years after that the passing away of Lal Bahadur Shastri as well who gave to us the poignant slogan ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan.’ (Hail the soldier, Hail the farmer).

We are reminded of the twin of the celebration of the Independence Day which is the Republic Day ( the 26th January of each year) when we commemorate the declaration of India as a Republic and the day that we gave to ourselves our most precious and sacred document of the Indian Constitution. The Preamble to it declares the Union of India to be a sovereign, democratic republic, assuring its citizens of justice, equality, and liberty.

The democratic character of the young nation was proved repeatedly through several general elections since 1951 when the first election to the Lok Sabha was held. In subsequent elections, the halo and cheer of having won independence did not last long enough. Expectations were rising on the part of the masses. Basic issues of bread and butter, employment, electricity, water, health and education were taking centre stage. Further, the diverse castes and regions within the nation were also asserting themselves. Slowly, it was the turn of backward castes and Dalits to struggle for their rights and assert their dominance in political life. This period I call as the ‘period of churning.’ The struggle for Independence had achieved freedom from the British Raj but had not given to the people of India, in the true sense, their social, economic and political rights or the means to enforce those rights. This was and is a happening process. The Republic, its democratic and inclusive character over the years have indeed attained a state of maturity today (2009). The churning may continue but diverse social groups have found their languages of politics in which to make their reasonable claims in an arena where several others are also making their claims.

From here (2009) onwards, the question is staring at us in the face. How do we intend to maitain our ‘tryst with destiny?’ Until recently, development was one among the many key issues on which claims and counter-claims were made for electoral success. Now it has become THE central plank, almost like a one-point agenda and the masses are eager to know the outcome on this platform. The vocabulary in the public sphere increasingly refers to inclusiveness and care.

Nobel laureates like Amartya Sen have led from the front in championing the cause of social development, health, education and well-being of our people and their children. Gender inequality, undernourishment of children,  starvation and debt among farmers etc have all become focus of attention. These are no longer routine issues but the stuff that politics is made of and will be in the days to come. These issues are centre-stage, they can no longer be kept on the margins.

As I have always maintained, perhaps we are moving to an era where we are visualizing ‘citizenship’ in ways stronger than we have before. Age, gender, class, caste, region, religion, language are less important. These may not go away. However, our tryst with destiny would be as a ‘caring’ and ‘inclusive’ nation. When that happens, the moment of anticipation is over and we have truly arrived!

Jai Hind!


  1. Quote

    Great,timely post.
    Nice to see that the contribution of Amartya Sen is also highlighted.
    To point out,just curious to know whether the ‘socialist ,secular’ in the present preamble of the Constitution is intentionally omitted or not.:)

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    Thanks Arun. The terms ‘socialist’ and ‘secular’ were introduced later to the Preamble by the 42nd amendment. There is no question of omitting the idea of ‘secular’ which forms the bedrock of the current republic while the economic model continues to be continuously debated.

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    A nice quick overview of past, present and future.

    Well I am sceptical about ‘inclusive’ and ‘care’ being a big shift happening. The reason I tell that even in this election there is a talk of regional powers failing, but I had seen a statistics of voting % of caste based parties has actually going up.

    Luckily BJP screwed up this time with no vison,leadership etc. Because of this congress was able to gain a better % saving the nation from the like of Ramadoss/Mayawati/Mulayam Singh.

    Yes the caste-based parties have been pushed to backfoot,hopefully they remain there. But the catch is there is still lot of incentives for being caste,minority based from college admissions till getting approval for educational institutions.

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    Thanks Kumaran. While its sometimes useful to know the fine details of an election here, a political party there and the attitudes of some personalities, this post is essentially about the big picture. And in the big picture talk in India, the focus on ‘caring’ and being ‘inclusive’ has started. There are no two ways about it.

    We pride ourselves on being a democracy and so competing caste-based or regional claims would be there from time to time. But the language of these claims are moving to an idea of politics that is lets include all our citizens by caring for them in the march towards an Indian destiny which again is linked to what happens at a global level. Our futures are intertwined.

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    Very nice post. I actually wanted to write a post on this and could not find a central idea for that and ended giving it up. The
    periodization was interesting and very apt. I, sometimes think that USSR disintegration and Gulf war are two key events that transformed our policy. So should we say we are already in the period of anticipation since 1991.

    Jai Hind.


  6. Quote

    Thanks Vamsi. As I noted the periodization is not mutually exclusive.

    1991 stands out as the year when our economic reforms gained momentum. Perhaps our anticipation of the outcome of such reforms had begun in earnest then itself.

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    Interesting post Abdul. We have faced a few challenges and we have come out of that. We will face new challenges and have to come out of them. Surely that inclusiveness is the current challenge we are facing along with many others due to scarce resources. Hope we come out shining..

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    Thanks Ananth for your thoughts.

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    Abdul – Nice post.

    Just curious – How did you date the end of the churn?

    The middle class is rising, the poorer classes in urban areas are also better off, but what about agriculture & rural development? Its still languishing. What we see is lopsided development, a symptom of our growing pains.

    I’m afraid that inclusion & “Aam Aadmi” are political planks, they may not yield results. I agree that we routinely under-estimate the contributions of the govt, but a large part of the changes that have happened in India is because of private enterprise. Meaning, we the people have to solve our own problems.

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    Good post Abdul. Caring & Inclusive has definitely got to be the overarching philosophy. As Priya says, unless our citizens think they can solve their problems on their own without waiting for the govt, we won’t be able to make progress rapidly.

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    Great write up Abdul. You are right on “period of churning” may continue, so that we can identify who is real leader and the real leaders who are coming out of this going to be a leader for India’s future growth. The problem with India’s leadership is, everyone wants to suppress others who has real passion and idea’s to make our country better. Everything politicalized and jealous and self-interest gets higher priority than common interests. A bright and really great idea of advancing country merely normalized by self-interest group is a curse of Indian political front. But thanks to explode of media and young people’s usage of social media. The leaders like Sen will start using this mass network to reach people and ignite some reforms. But the real value of mass social and young people take over leadership is not far away. But definitely i can see the changes.

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    Thanks Priya. As I had mentioned the periodization is not mutually exclusive.

    The concepts, “sufferring”, “churning” and “anticipation” are a form of simultitude. They represent every historical epoch. In the present, it continues to churn as people sure do make sacrifices for a better nation. Anticipation is and would be there for all time.

    I could not agree with you more about lopsided development as a sign of our growth pangs that need to be addressed.

    I would not under-estimate the talk of ‘inclusion’ as political slogans. Please note that even in the judicial position on alternate sexuality the reference is to ‘inclusion’ of our sexual minorities.

    And as regards private sector and citizens initiatives, the more the merrier! 🙂

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    Thanks a lot Sukumar. Glad that you think the ‘caring and inclusive’ approach is the way forward. The vocabulary of ‘public-private’ partnership also seems to be promising.

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    Thanks Subba. There is tremendous energy and passion underlying your comment. I wish for all our sakes the great days are not too far away and there is a smile on everyone’s face. 🙂

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    Nice post. Awareness which comes with education is the way that India will become an “inclusive” nation. Advancement in technology and media exposure are some ways that this awareness will happen. As internet/www percolates the breadth of the nation, it could become the levelling tool between the have’s and have not’s.

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    Thank you Ganesh. I could not agree with you more about awareness, indeed another golden word.

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    Krithika said August 19, 2009, 3:51 pm:

    Great post, Abdul and very well timed too!

    What is heartening these days is that a lot of youngsters are taking up work in NGOs as their career and purpose in life. With so many people passionate about developing India around, the ‘caring’ and ‘inclusive’ approach should set in soon. These people are working with people at the grassroots level and trying to make them self-sufficient and thereby improve their economic status and quality of life as well.

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    Thanks Krithika for your kind words.

    You got it on the dot when you spoke of the increased involvement of people, especially the youth in grassroots work. There is also an increased interest in corporate social responsibility (csr) in the private sector as also the need to be sensitive to the ecosystems that we are part of and this is a great step forward. Relatedly, there is the trend where several executives have moved from their regular functions be it marketing or finance and have taken up a passionate interest in csr work.

    The terms ‘caring’ and ‘inclusive’ cannot just be rhetorical or mere words but need to have meaning and depth. And so interventions in the public sphere have to be authentic with an eye to benefitting the common good. How and in what way we will achieve this with a large population is the moment of anticipation.

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